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Quantegy Finally Goes Tapeless

“Unfortunately, as technology improves, there is a decrease in demand for magnetic tape media.

“Unfortunately, as technology improves, there is a decrease in demand for magnetic tape media. It is for this reason that Quantegy is now discontinuing certain magnetic tape products.”

With this statement, issued in January, the curtain comes down on a very long-running production in the small eastern Alabama town of Opelika.

Quantegy Recording Solutions and predecessors Orr and Ampex have made tape here since the 1940s, supplying countless reels, pancakes and cassettes of recording tape to radio and television stations, recording studios and production houses.

According to Josh Herron, marketing manager for Quantegy, the decision was not an easy one, but the editing marks had been visible on the wall for some time.

“Over time, the demand for our products has dwindled due to the changes in recording technology,” said Herron. “This was a difficult decision, but we have to go with the times. From this point on we’ll be concentrating on new recording technologies.”

Last call

Herron said Quantegy planned to take tape orders until the end of February, and will keep production lines running as long as necessary to fill the orders that came in. The last few inches of recording tape are expected to be spooled off some time in April.

Discontinued audio products include the company’s 406, 407, 408, 456, 457, 467, 478, 480, 499, 600 and GP9 analog and digital open reel tapes, as well as all ADAT, DAT and DAU product lines. The company also will no longer be supplying audio cassettes, its AVX/IRC and 472 products.

Though production is being terminated, Herron said that there were no immediate plans to disassemble the production equipment. “If other coating opportunities present themselves, this would be an option for us.”

Quantegy has no plans to relocate or trim its work force. “We plan to stay here in Opelika,” he said. “We’re not thinking of taking operations anywhere else. The company has too long of a history here to consider moving.”

The company employs approximately 70 persons, down from a peak of nearly 2,500 a decade ago.

“[We’ve received] an influx of orders now and we’ll need all hands to fill them,” said Herron. “We have no plans to cut our workforce. We’re not nearly as big as we were before the company reorganization in 2005.”

Quantegy is marketing its FHD and Black Diamond lines of hard-drive storage systems and expects to see continuing expansion and growth in this area.

“We introduced some new lines at the last AES,” said Herron “And we have some other things in the works we can’t really talk too much about now.”

Postwar startup

The Quantegy operation is linked with the beginnings of magnetic tape recording technology in the United States in the years immediately following World War II.

At the end of the war in Europe, one U.S. officer, Major John “Jack” Mullin, transplanted German audio recording technology to the United States with the importation of AEG’s Magnetofon recorder. This machine served as the starting point for Ampex’s involvement in audio recording.

Another officer, Major John H. Orr, independently realized the postwar potential for audio tape recording, and upon returning to America, established his own recording tape manufacturing business, Orradio Industries, in Opelika.

Orr began operations in the basement of a local drugstore. The business ultimately grew to some 500,000 square feet of buildings on a 36-acre tract. Early on, Orr was assisted by a German scientist with knowledge of magnetic recording media, Karl Pflaumer, in his efforts to produce a quality product. Orr’s first tapes hit the market in 1949. The company became known for its “Irish” line of recording tape, favored by recording studios and broadcasters.

With the rise in popularity of magnetic recording in the early 1950s and onward, Orr’s company had many American competitors, including Audio Devices, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), Eastman Kodak, RCA and Soundcraft.

Orr sold his company to Ampex in 1959, and it was reorganized as Ampex’s Magnetic Tape Division. This eventually became known as the Ampex Recording Media Corp. As part of that company’s redirection some 35 years later, the tape manufacturing division was renamed Quantegy Inc. This was later changed to Quantegy Recording Solutions LLC.

Times change

Over time, other recording technologies began to augment and replace magnetic tape; one by one, the other American recording tape contenders slipped by the wayside until only Quantegy remained.

With demand declining, the company declared bankruptcy and closed manufacturing operations in January of 2005. Not long afterwards, it was sold to a new owner, and in April of that year, magnetic tape manufacturing operations were restarted and have continued until the present.

Herron said while there were still offshore sources available for some of the products being eliminated with the shutdown of Quantegy’s tape operations, other product lines were unique.

“We are the last supplier of tapes for telemetry and data logging in the world,” he said.

He said closing audio tape production had been a difficult decision. “We’ve got extremely loyal customers who have stood by us and our brand. They’ve told us that ours is the only tape they’d use.

“We’ve been really proud of our service to the industry for so long and know that our name will always be part of the recording industry. Tape has been our life since the end of World War II, but it’s time now to move on.”

James O’Neal has written in RW about the 100th anniversary of the vacuum tube and about Reginald Fessenden’s legendary Christmas Eve broadcast.

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